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Can I Make a Paint Color Darker?

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

Choosing the right paint color is tricky. Even interior designers can have a tough time landing on the perfect color every once in a while (want to know a secret? I also help other interior designers with paint color specifications).

Recently, in a private Facebook group for interior design professionals, I answered a question from a designer who was wondering if you could adjust a paint color to make it darker.

In other words, could you take a paint recipe and have it tinted at 75%, 125% or 150%, to make the colors lighter or darker, but still retain the same “flavor”? Wouldn’t that be so much easier?

Paint deck of colors
Choosing paint colors is not always easy

The answer is Yes. And No.

The tinter at the paint store can mathematically adjust the formula. Some tint machines will do it automatically, while in other cases they use good old fashioned math to upscale the color recipe.

Two Things to Know

1) Not only is paint packaged in different sheens, like flat or eggshell, it’s also made with different bases. Meaning light colors are tinted into a white paint base, while darker colors are tinted into mid or deep-tone bases (this is for technical reasons like tint load and coverage issues that arise with additional pigments being added).

Something else: Jumping between bases, mid-tone to dark base for example, does not make for an even graduation of the color. This can be frustrating when you have a certain color in your mind but can’t create it in real life.

Open paint can, bright green color
Would this be an easy color to tint at 200%? Ha!

2) Certain pigments are stronger than others, so by increasing the recipe, you are also increasing the opportunity for one pigment to overpower another. Red is a very strong pigment and can make a color look “rosier” as it gets darker if it’s mathematically increased without taking the pigment strength into account.

Did You Know?

Some paint tinting systems use 10-12 pigments to make their colors, others use up to 16. They aren’t used all at once for every single paint color, but the systems with more pigments means there are more options to get to unique color spaces than those with fewer pigments. Makes sense, right?

This is why you have challenges finding the right colors with certain paint companies - they simply cannot get to the same color space as other brands because of pigment limitations.

Paint pigments
The building blocks to making a paint color - pigments. Shown are C2 Paint pigments

When Increasing the Color Recipe

Your eye often has difficulty discerning from a straight formula and one that’s been bumped to 125%, unless you need just a little nudge. At 150% you start seeing some action.

Some colors cannot be increased very much because they are already at the top of their tint load, and you risk pigments not being able to be mixed into the paint. Or you lose coverage and hide features, because extra pigment will make the paint more transparent.

Master tinters in the paint store know how to navigate around these issues - but not many.

All that being said, yes, you can increase or decrease a formula, but always get a quart in the sheen and finish you want to verify. Skip the sample pot and pick up an actual quart.

Want Help Finding YOUR Perfect Color?

Color is my middle name (not really... it’s Theresa!), and one of my favorite services is color specification for interiors and exteriors. If you don’t know where to start, let’s talk. I make house calls and we can get you on the right path to creating a beautiful home.

It's a fun two hour consultation, and at the end of it you'll be armed with a paint specification that you can easily share with your painter, too. Peace of mind in a paint can... Who knew?

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